Susa (Esther 9)

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Susa (modern Shush, Iran) was inhabited from the fourth millennium B.C. to the thirteenth century A.D. Early on, the city became a religious centre, with temples to Inshushinak (“lord of Susa”) and other deities. During the third millennium B.C. Susa, along with another city called Anshan, was a centre of Elamite civilization. It eventually came to have a large and prosperous population. Through the second and early first millennium B.C. the city was either an independent Elamite capital or controlled by foreign powers, such as the Babylonians and Assyrians. It also became an important commercial hub, with contacts in India, Egypt, Arabia and Greece.

Susa came to the height of its power during the thirteenth and twelfth centuries B.C. One of its kings, Shutruk-Nahunte, conquered Babylon and brought fabulous spoils to Susa, including the Code of Hammurabi (which was discovered at the Susa acropolis in 1900=. In 646 B.C. the city was destroyed by the Assyrians under Assurbanipal. Susa was rebuilt shortly afterward but again was conquered by Cyrus of Persia in 539 B.C.

Darius I (522-486 B.C.) made Susa the winter palace for the Persian empire, and in this capacity its prestige and prosperity greatly increased. The city grew to 625 acres. Its remains correspond to what we see described in Esther. During the reign of Darius a canal separated the unfortified, lower city on the eastern bank (i.e. “Susa”, Esther 9:13-15) from the fortified, upper city on the western bank (i.e. “the citadel of Susa” in 1:5, cf. Daniel 8:2). An artsans’ village was located east of the citadel. Citadel remains include a monumental gate (cf. Esther 2:19, 21) with trilingual inscriptions (cf. 1:22) and a large palace with two divisions: a three acre audience hall and a ten acre residential area with four successive inner courts (cf. 4:11, 5:1-2, 6:4).

The palace of Darius burned during the reign of Artaxerxes I but was restored under Artaxerxes II, who built a provisional palace in the lower city. Alexander the Great took Susa without a fight, and the city continued to flourish as a centre of trade and textile production, with a large population of Jews, until it was finally abandoned during the thirteenth century A.D.


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